Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The circuit rider in American history was usually a Methodist; but it would be a mistake to superimpose our image of the frontier evangelist on the founder of Methodism, who, for all his traveling and out-of-doors preaching, was an Oxford don who had taken Anglican orders. During their university days, John Wesley and his brother Charles (the hymn writer) were leaders in a group known as the Holy Club, devoted to charitable works and to holy living. Nothing in the regimen of this pious band gives any hint of the great popular revival movement with which the names of the Wesleys and of George Whitefield (another member of the Holy Club) are so closely connected. The exception might be a certain mystical and ascetic ideal of Christian living that, in John Wesley’s view, was an essential part of the Anglican tradition and that he fought to retain in the societies that he founded, often in opposition to other evangelical leaders, including Whitefield.
Wesley is remembered chiefly as a man of action. Of his writings, only the Journal has excited general interest, and that less for its literary qualities than for the story it narrates. Excerpts from the Journal were published serially as part of his attempt to allay prejudice and to promote understanding. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection may be thought of as a supplement to the published Journal. In the 1760’s some people were saying that Wesley had shifted his...
(The entire section is 2381 words.)
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